Foresters for the Birds

Women woodland owners at a Forestry for Maine Birds workshop

>One of the surest signs of springtime is the return of colorful, joyful-sounding songbirds to the forests of the Northeast.  Forests along the Atlantic Flyway provides critical nesting and breeding habitat for countless warblers, thrushes, and other familiar feathered friends seeking a summer home.

However, many species are seeing significant decline in population coincident with changes in forest cover and composition.  To combat these trends, Audubon Vermont partnered with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation to launch Foresters for the Birds, an innovative program that pairs silviculture – the art and science of forest management – with migratory forest songbird habitat needs.  By educating foresters, woodland owners, and the public about forest stewardship, program partners are working to enhance the health of our forests, local wood economies, and priority songbird populations.

Vermont has developed a “Birder’s Dozen,” a suite of birds that occupy a range of forest structural niches ranging from shrubs and sapling cover to large, old canopy trees.  These birds, in turn, are paired with silvicultural treatments that can be implemented to enhance habitat for these birds and for other species that make a home in a similar forest structure.  Materials from Vermont can be found on the Audubon Vermont website, and people can visit demonstration sites to see habitat management in action.

Since the project’s launch in 2008, Foresters for the Birds has spread across New England and to states in the Southeast and Midwest as well.  Birds are an excellent “spokesperson” for telling the story of how forests can benefit from thoughtful management.  Understanding the habitat needs of birds also simplifies the sometimes-confusing conversations about the impacts of climate changeon our forests and the birds that call our woods, “home.”

Foresters for the Birds has trained hundreds of foresters in silviculture with birds in mind.  Some of the basic bird-friendly management strategies that can be implemented on most woodlands include:

  • Create/Enhance Vertical Structure
  • Limit Management Activities During the Breeding Season 
  • Keep Forest Buffers Along Streams
  • Retain Overstory Trees When Harvesting
  • Retain Deadwood
  • Soften Edges Between Habitats
  • Minimize Linear Openings
  • Maximize Forest Interior
  • Retain Early Successional Forest Habitat

Many of these recommendations go hand-in-hand with a thoughtful forest management plan that captures the woodland owner’s values.  Above all, creating and enhancing vertical structure in the forest – rich cover in the understory, mid-story, and overstory – through a well-planned harvest can provide the diversity of habitat niches that forest songbirds need to grow their populations. 

To learn more and explore downloadable resources, visit and consider signing up for Audubon Vermont’s newsletter.